When discussing the benefits of red light therapy, experts mostly focus on accelerated wound healing, reduced inflammatory pain, improved blood flow, anti-aging benefits, and skin rejuvenation.
However, new studies show that red light therapy treatments can also improve brain and cognitive health, including cognitive function and a wide array of neurological conditions and neurodegenerative diseases.
How Does Red Light Therapy Work?
Red light therapy (aka photobiomodulation) is a type of non-invasive low-level laser therapy or low-level light therapy that uses light-emitting diodes to stimulate all aspects of your physical and mental health.
These diodes emit red and near-infrared light - red light is visible, its wavelengths ranging between 630 to 700 nanometers (nm), while near-infrared light is invisible, and its wavelengths are considerably longer, from 700 to 2,500nm.
Due to the difference in their wavelengths, red light primarily affects conditions on the skin's surface. At the same time, near-infrared can penetrate human tissue to around two inches beyond the skin's surface, thus affecting cell, muscle, bone, and brain functions.
At this particular depth, near-infrared light can reach through the skull and the cerebrospinal fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord before it is absorbed into brain tissue.
Red Light for Traumatic Brain Injury
Traumatic brain injury is a neurological disorder caused by a sudden injury typically resulting from a violent blow, bump, or jolt to the head. It is especially common among professional athletes, and unfortunately, at the moment, there are no widely accepted treatments for it.
One study focused on a 23-year professional hockey player with symptoms of headaches, anxiety, and difficulty concentrating, presumably caused by a history of concussions endured while playing the sport. His previous attempted treatments with nutritional supplements, acupuncture, chiropractic neurology, and hyperbaric oxygen showed no significant improvements.
However, after an eight week treatment period at home with a commercially-available red light therapy device with near-infrared light therapy exposure at 810nm, the young athlete's test scores showed an increase in brain volumes and cerebral perfusion, as well as an improvement in functional connectivity and neuropsychological functions.
To put it simply, low-level laser therapy showed improved cognitive function and executive function, managing to relieve symptoms of the hockey player's traumatic brain injury in a way that no other form of therapy did. Though this is just one case, the researchers urged for larger, controlled clinical trials to further explore the benefits of photobiomodulation in treating severe or mild traumatic brain injury.
What Neurodegenerative Disorders May Benefit from Red and Near-Infrared Light?
Red light therapy also has a potential to slow down the progression of neurodegenerative disorders such as dementia, Alzheimer's disease and Parkinson's disease. These generative brain disorders develop due to progressive death of neurons in the brain, and so far no type of treatment has been able to fully slow or stop their symptoms.
According to another study, red light therapy could prove to be a safe and effective neuroprotective treatment for patients suffering from Alzheimer's, Parkinson's, as well as presumably other neurodegenerative diseases such as multiple sclerosis and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.
When applied during early stages of a progressive neurodegenerative disease, red light could protect neurons from cell death. Alternatively, it could be used as a supplemental treatment to drug therapy by managing to prolong the efficacy of the medication. Further major clinical trials could provide a much-needed breakthrough when it comes to red light treatment of degenerative brain disorders.
Can Red Light Therapy Enhance Functioning of Brain Cells?
Neurodegenerative diseases can often cause mitochondrial dysfunction, an inability for cells to produce energy, leading to their deterioration or death.
One of the main benefits of red light therapy is that it increases the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), as shown in this study by Michael R. Hamblin. ATP is an energy-carrying molecule that supports a number of processes in living cells, including muscle contraction and nerve impulse propagation. Proliferation of ATP helps cells regenerate and function more efficiently.
The same study by Hamlin also concluded that red light exposure can improve cerebral blood flow and increase the level of oxygen in the brain in Alzheimer's patients, leading to more brain power and better brain function.
What's more, another study conducted by Hamlin found that red light can help with oxidative stress and chronic inflammation, a condition where there is an imbalance between unstable molecules known as reactive oxygen species and antioxidants in the body. Red light can help keep the number of free radicals in the optimal range, thus reducing oxidative stress.
Stem cells are unique in that they are the only cells that can self-renew and recreate functional tissues. In this way, they are an essential element of the body's self-healing mechanisms.
Red light therapy works to activate stem cells, which causes them to travel through the bloodstream to the injured part of the body, such as the brain, transform into the needed type of cell and consequently assist in the healing process.
Red Light Can Help Improve Mental Health
As compared to prescription medication, which often comes with considerable and sometimes debilitating side effects, red light therapy is a safe and effective alternative that could be used as the primary or supplementary treatment of psychiatric disorders.
Bright light therapy has long been used as a treatment for seasonal affective disorder, but red light therapy applied to the forehead has also been proven successful in the treatment of major depression and anxiety without provoking any side effects.
Not only that, but participants in this trial also reported improved sleep, enhanced cognitive performance, and fewer symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
How To Use Red Light for Brain Health
Red light can be applied using portable, ergonomic, and user-friendly red light therapy devices like Infraredi. Red light therapy is safe, natural, and side-effect-free. No UV rays are involved in this type of treatment, so there is no danger of burns, thermal injuries, or skin cancer.
It is advised to start therapy slowly with three to five treatments a day lasting between one to five minutes per condition you would like to treat. Once your body gets adjusted to it, you can increase treatments to one a day with a maximum of 20 minutes per area of treatment. You should notice improvements in your brain health after 2 to 4 weeks of regular use.
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